Last month the LGiU launched Under Construction, our report on the role of councils in future house building. Cllr Khevyn Limbajee from Waltham Forest explains how his council is tackling the housing crisis with an ambitious building programme.
Waltham Forest’s ambition to take a leading role in building new homes that are well designed, desirable and affordable is reinforced by the LGiU’s ‘Under Construction’ report.
As one of the fastest growing boroughs in London with a population increase of 18.6 per cent across 2003 – 2013, housing is a priority for the Council and our residents.
Historically our borough has offered an ample supply of affordable housing. However the house price boom has seen the value of property in Waltham Forest skyrocket at one of the fastest paces in the country.
Rather than accept the status quo and employing approaches that are quickly becoming dated and ineffective, Waltham Forest is ‘stepping up to the plate’ as urged by LGiU and embarking on one of the biggest home building programmes in London.
Our ambition is to build 12,000 new homes across the borough, one-half of which will be affordable, by 2020.
Waltham Forest’s strategy involves innovative thinking, bold goals and clear objectives. It’s not just about the number of homes built; we want to build homes in neighbourhoods that are beautiful, prosperous and friendly.
The Council has identified a range of opportunities for future development including complex sites where land would come from relaxing current planning policies and using our Compulsory Purchase Powers at key locations. Developing these sites will be complicated and involve some difficult decisions, however long-term will yield great benefits for the housing needs of our borough.
The Council has a HRA funded programme for 540 new Council homes and in addition is proposing to set up a joint venture Local Housing Company to develop and own almost 1,500 homes.
The LGiU identifies that councils need to adopt a collaborative approach to housing. To this end Waltham Forest is forming partnerships to enable and facilitate developments and encourage investment in the borough. Our message to developers is that we are open for business and ready to work with them to create homes that complement our existing communities and improve the infrastructure of the local area to benefit all.
We want to broaden the range of the local housing to address aspirations as well as housing needs.
Our strategy will also target modest and middle-income households who are currently locked out of home ownership.
Housing developments involving Council owned sites and schemes will have a clear objective that half of new homes built will be affordable, for non-Council schemes we will ask that 35 per cent of homes are affordable.
Waltham Forest welcomes purpose-built high quality privately rented accommodation in town centre settings close to public transport hubs.
We recognise that the rental sector is an important source of housing in our borough with the number of residents renting privately rising rapidly. To tackle anti-social behaviour and improve living standards for tenants the Council has implemented a Private Rented Property Licensing Scheme. This involves landlords having to apply for a licence for each property that is rented out within the borough.
Change cannot be brought about by councils alone and the Government needs to play its part. We have identified key actions the Government and Mayor for London can undertake to assist us in achieving our goals, including:
- lifting or relaxing the HRA borrowing cap – enabling us to expedite the building of new Council homes
- changing what local authorities can do with Right To Buy receipts – an additional £10m of borrowing in the HRA together with a review of Right To Buy receipts would fund an extra 90 homes
- greater flexibility from Transport for London on parking at stations
- greater flexibility on re-designating land use
- better rights and security for private sector tenants.
Ultimately we need to do more than just build a set number of new units. They must be well designed, and part of thriving and beautiful places where people will chose to live.
Our housing strategy recommends a holistic approach recognising that we also need to create good schools, health facilities, recreation and leisure amenities alongside housing developments to ensure our borough remains a great place to live, work and visit.
Councillor Khevyn Limbajee is Cabinet Member for Housing at Waltham Forest.